Prosecutors Reinvestigating Ritter's Role in $40 Million County Health Contract

The State Attorney's Office has reopened its investigation of Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter's dealings involving a $40 million county contract with Vista Health, according to sources.

Ritter voted by phone in favor of the Vista contract in 2007 despite the fact that the health insurance company had hired Dutko Poole & McKinley, the lobbying firm employing her lobbyist-husband Russell Klenet, to represent its interests with the county.

Klenet was working at the time as a vice president for the Dutko firm as well its "managing director" of Broward operations. While Klenet didn't register to lobby for Vista, one of his colleagues, Wil McKinley, who had only limited experience in Broward County, represented Vista before the commission.

Ritter joined the majority in voting to make Vista the lone health insurance provider for the county on June 26, 2007. Not only did Ritter vote for Vista but she also sat on the county's insurance committee, which laid the groundwork for the vote on the contract.

"Nobody wants to be perceived as taking away someone's choice, but this was a decision I think that we had to make...," Ritter said on speakerphone before casting her vote. "And this is going to save us some money." 

Ritter was so pleased with the commission's decision to give Vista the contract she began gushing on the speakerphone.

"I am very proud of you... very proud," she said.

Even then-Broward County Mayor Joe Eggelletion, who is now in prison on money-laundering and corruption charges, thought her words 

were over-the-top.

"Yeah right, Stacy," he said.

"I'm serious," Ritter said.

I learned of the situation shortly after her vote and wrote a story about it that sparked a State Attorney's Office investigation. The incredibly minimal probe, which consisted primarily of interviews with Ritter and Klenet, found no wrongdoing, despite the obvious problems with the situation. But sources say new and potentially damning information has come to light regarding Ritter's vote that has led Michael Satz's prosecutors to reopen the investigation.

This revelation comes at the same time that we learn the State Attorney's Office has reopened another investigation involving Ritter's close ally on the board, Ilene Lieberman, which you can read about below.

Vista, incidentally, was also involved in a similarly shady contract with the Broward County School Board that was spearheaded by Member Stephanie Kraft. At the same time that Kraft led the move to give Vista an exclusive contract, her husband, lawyer Mitch Kraft, was secretly employed by Vista lobbyist Neil Sterling.

Wow, sometimes it still amazes even me how dirty this county is.

-- Oftentimes campaign treasurers are either volunteers, family members, or friends. Sometimes they're hired and make a little money. In the cases of Broward County Judge Jay Hurley and Circuit Judge Elijah Williams, it's another thing altogether.

Both judges hired attorney Ed McGee to take care of their campaign reports, and both paid hefty fees for McGee's services. Hurley has paid McGee's law firm, McGee & Huskey, about $12,560 so far while Williams has chucked out nearly $9,000 to the law firm.

Here's the kicker: A complaint has been filed with the Florida Elections Commission alleging that the two judges failed to disclose the occupations of more than 100 contributors each on their campaign forms to the state. This may not sound like a big deal, but occupation disclosure is a key part of campaign finance law because it allows watchdogs to track how much money certain industries are giving to each candidate. In short, it shows which professions are trying to buy influence with our politicians and judges.

My bet: Both Hurley and Williams end up paying a fine to make McGee's services that much more expensive. 

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